Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, perhaps with the leave of the House I could ask one question that arises out of the Minister's reply to me. I do not believe that I am being stupid, but in the example that she gave I believe that one would need to assess. There would be no need not to do any of those things. I do not understand why she cites that example.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I cite that example because in an amendment to remove all special educational needs legislation from the power to innovate, that would be removed as well.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 2 [Power to suspend statutory requirements etc.]:

Baroness Walmsley moved Amendment No. 3:

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we tabled Amendments Nos. 3 and 7 before we knew what the Government were proposing, although in Committee the Minister gave us cause to be encouraged. Government Amendment No. 8 is welcome. By placing the requirement to consult with LEAs on the face of the Bill rather than simply leaving it under guidance, the Minister has gone further than the reassurance that she gave noble Lords in Committee. Therefore, we shall not press Amendments Nos. 3 and 7. I beg to move.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment No. 8. In view of what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has said, I am not sure that the brief that I have is appropriate. As I have said before, local education authorities play a vital role. We know that they have a track record of successful innovation; for example, in working with education action zones, in developing literacy and numeracy strategies and in turning around schools in special measures.

I believe that local education authorities have demonstrated the potential to have a real impact and to make a real difference to standards in their schools. I want them to build on that experience and where they have new ideas for innovative ways of raising standards to be able to come forward with proposals. We believe that that will be particularly important for projects that involve collaboration between schools where the LEA will be best placed to make that work.

We have always said that where a school comes forward with a proposal, the local education authority should be consulted. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has said, I am responding to the arguments raised in Committee that this could helpfully be added to the face of the Bill.

Lord Dearing: My Lords, I apologise for pressing this point because it is so obvious. Will the Minister

17 Jun 2002 : Column 521

give an assurance that when statutory consultation of this kind takes place the results will be in the hands of the Secretary of State when she takes her decision?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: Yes, my Lords.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 4 not moved.]

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn moved Amendment No. 5:

    Page 2, line 28, at end insert "except any requirement relating to religious education or collective worship"

The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, Amendment No. 5 is specifically concerned with provisions affecting community schools rather than Church schools. I apologise to the House and the Minister for not raising this matter in Committee—possibly I was slow on the uptake—but it arises out of a number of anxieties expressed to me in the intervening period by a number of people and groups relating to the statutory requirements affecting religious education and collective worship in community schools.

In my view, in a pluralist society, religious education is of greater significance than once it was if the desire is to have a tolerant society in which religious hatred has no part, as I am sure all noble Lords would wish to be the case. Of course, I am ready to agree that opinion is divided on the matter of provision of collective worship. But that is surely a sensitive matter for Parliament to decide rather than either the Secretary of State or a school governing body.

Of course, that works both ways. The present statutory provision allows the withdrawal of pupils from RE and collective worship. So Amendment No. 5 would also serve to protect the rights of such parents from governors who felt that the withdrawal rights stood in the way of good or sound education, or innovations that they may want to make.

I do not want to labour this point. The Minister's amendment goes some way to meet the concerns expressed; but if I hear what I hope to hear from the noble Baroness, to which response I shall listen carefully, I may be persuaded to withdraw the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, when we spoke in Committee on admissions to schools with a religious dimension, I can recall shortening my speech by saying that, in following the right reverend Prelate in his speech, I would follow the example of the Back-Bencher who followed Edmund Burke in the 18th century and simply say, "Ditto to Mr Burke".

But I shall be marginally more expansive on this occasion with an exotic example from a 1944 Act and the parliamentary proceedings upon it. On that occasion the late Lord Eccles introduced an amendment that there should be equal pay for men and women as soon as the war was over. It was the only

17 Jun 2002 : Column 522

time in the whole of the war when the government were defeated, and they were defeated by 117 votes to 116. In addition to the late Lord Eccles, the late Lord Hailsham, Lord Thorneycroft and my late noble kinsman all voted against the government. The Prime Minister, threatened by that experience and determined that Dr Goebbels should not make any use of it, insisted on Report that there should be a massive three-line Whip and the amendment was reversed by 425 votes to 17.

The reason I mention this is because the Prime Minister then sent for the late Lord Eccles, who was in his first year in the House of Commons and said—I shall put it in oratio recta—"Young man, I am not unsympathetic with what you are seeking to do. But to bring in a clause of this sort on this Bill in the midst of a major conflict in which this nation is engaged is, if I may say so, like putting an elephant in a perambulator". For exactly the same reason I share the views of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn that we should not run any risk that that should happen, by accident, as a consequence of this legislation.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I do not claim to be able to follow the eloquence of my noble friend.

Lord Peston: My Lords, if the noble Baroness will allow me to intervene, I am a little lost—as one always is—on our procedure. Can I ask the Minister, since her amendment is included in this group, whether she is proposing at some point to speak to her amendment, then sit down, and then reply to the whole debate? Is that how we are going to proceed? That will determine when I join in.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, my understanding is that the right reverend Prelate is taking Amendment No. 5 on its own.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, Amendment No. 5 is grouped with Amendments Nos. 10 and 11. I intended to deal with both at the same time; that is, speak once to my amendment and the other amendments. I thought that was the procedure.

Lord Peston: My Lords, when does my noble friend expect the rest of us to speak?

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, in the absence of anybody else rising, and without wishing to put an elephant in the perambulator as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, suggested, I rise briefly to support the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn and Amendment No. 5.

These debates tend to be cyclical. We have had debates both here and in another place over the past decade on whether or not it is desirable to have daily acts of worship, collective acts of worship and religious education in our state schools. The overwhelming decision in this place and in another place has been that that should continue to be the case. I therefore

17 Jun 2002 : Column 523

agree with the point the right reverend Prelate is making: if one wanted to change that, it should be changed as a result of new legislation, not merely by something in the gift of a Secretary of State.

I add one other point. At a time when there are enormous pressures on young people—we live in a very dysfunctional society—the quiet places we have in our lives are important. It is important that in the hurly-burly, the cacophony of life, with so much noise and so many pressures bearing down on young people, we should not squeeze out the opportunity for them to understand something of the spiritual in their lives. It may not necessarily be Christian beliefs. In most people there is some kind of spiritual impulse. Where daily acts of worship and religious education are conducted well, it can meet a real need in young people.

I do not see this as a Cinderella question or as being on the margins of our debate; it is central to the way we form young people for the future. I hope therefore that we receive a reply from the Minister today that will reassure us; and that if schools bring forward innovative proposals which remove religious education or the daily acts of worship in their schools, as she has already been able to say in special needs education, she will be able to state categorically that that is not to be the purpose of innovation.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page